This year I will be having Christmas in three major parts: once with my parents and enormously pregnant sibling (technically it’s his wife that’s pregnant but you know what I mean), once with my in-laws and once with my husband’s sister’s family.
What’s Christmas about for me?
I always like “going home” for Christmas: the English winter, the prospect that there might be a light dusting of snow, the dark green pine tree with sparkly decorations, the sort of magic that candle flames and twinkling lights in the dark brings, midnight mass or the child-friendly crib service.
I love the food, the family traditions, and now I’m older and have my own child creating tradition of our own (we’re not big turkey fans, so working out what we want instead and getting it supplied locally is part of the fun).
TV seems to play quite a major role too – not so much the Queen’s speech any more, but certainly Doctor Who or Wallace and Gromit on Christmas day. And now my son’s a bit bigger, the post dinner walk is a bit more important for all of us – we can walk off dinner and he can burn off a bit of energy.
But it’s the Christmas service at church that’s so beautiful and so essentially part of the whole thing for me. As a regular churchgoer, I’m representative of over half of the UK population in terms of my faith (according to Tearfund in 2007), with 7.9 million attending church monthly and 4.9 million weekly (of which about 1.1 million are for my particular denomination).
The numbers shoot up at Christmas – those with a negative agenda on this will call this “cultural Christianity” and say that those people don’t count or should describe themselves as not Christian in the 2011 Census count, but frankly I’m pleased to see anyone that wants to be there and if they want to self-define as Christian that is surely their business and not that of the BHA.
Children and Christmas
What about children’s perceptions of Christmas? With the church-going caveat firmly in my mind, I asked my toddler what was special about Christmas.
“It my birthday!” he said.
No, sweetie, you’ve had your birthday.
“It Jesus birthday… but I get presents”, he said, unprompted.
I quizzed him a bit more. Apparently he wants to see his grandparents and his cousins, but Father Christmas is a character on Peppa Pig. He’s quite excited about carrying a candle in the church too.
Is he typical? Well, in 2006 there was some research done (and admittedly with older children), handily put in one place on the internet by the Evangelical Alliance which showed that not all children see Christmas time as a wholly positive experience:
Reported in the Daily Mail 19 December 2006
- 44% of 7-11 year-olds regarded Christmas day as a celebration of the birth of Jesus – although in Northern Ireland the figure rose to 71%.
- Although 89% were excited, and 79% were happy about the holiday period, one in six said they felt sad, nervous or left out at Christmas.
- Perhaps not so surprisingly, one in four (24%) believed the season was about giving, rather than receiving, presents.
- Giving clearly matters, however, with almost two-thirds (63%) saving their pocket money to buy presents, adding up to an average piggy-bank of £34. 33% nationally and 45% in Scotland managed to save more than £50
What other sorts of Christmas are there?
So what’s the point of a secular Christmas? It seems pretty much that Christmas just becomes an occasion to get together with family or friends, give them gifts to show you love them, eat food and keep warm and have light in an otherwise pretty depressing time of year.
That was certainly the message from last year’s intro sequence to the Doctor Who Christmas special…
It’s also the message from endless American movies about the true meaning of Christmas.
Well, that’s lovely.
I just wonder whether, if you don’t go to church because you explicitly reject the Christ bit of Christmas, whether you reject the non-christian but religious-routed elements too?
The pagan festival of Yule falls on 21 December, celebrating the return of the light after the shortest day of the year (celebrating the rebirth of the sun, not the sun, as one wiccan put it), with the similar festival for Mithras, Roman god of light, on 25 December.
Wiccans use oak and holly to represent the summer and winter (think about the Christmas song “The Holly and the Ivy” and the traditional yule log – which was a big bit of oak and not a chocolate swiss roll in years gone by). Feasting and giving gifts was a tradition of Saturnalia (the Roman festival on 17 December).
The good news is that mice pies should still be available to you – they seem to originate with Henry V, and Christmas pudding too seems to be without religious significance.
Is that all there is to Christmas?
Ok, so there’s a bunch of traditions and a chance to catch up with family. Is that it?
Or, how does the story of a baby born over 2000 years ago in a backwater of the Roman empire relate to any of this?
Tell you what, rather than me write it all out here, here’s a fantastic idea… the Natwivity!
The art of storytelling has been part of the church since it all began, so think of the Natwivity as a Nativity play for the Internet generation. Put it this way – if you’re the sort of person to read blogs, then you might also be onFacebook, or on Twitter.
The press release tells me that “the Natwivity takes advantage of social media’s unparalleled capacity to engage people as they go about their everyday life to re-tell the Christmas story in a fresh, personal way. It is possible to follow on Twitter and Facebook and you’ll be able to pick up the ‘tweets’ at home, in the high street on your phone and at work”.
I’m really looking forward to it – the point about using 140 character tweets is that there should be an immediate, real-life feel.
Each day from throughout Advent (1st December to Christmas Day), different members of the cast will tweet a140-character update. They include Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the three wise men and King Herod.
By reading these daily tweets, followers can learn more about each character’s thoughts and feelings, from Mary’s angst as she rides on a donkey over the hills of Bethlehem right through to the night the shepherd’s saw their familiar hills illuminated by an angelic host.
So if you were wondering at all about the Christ in Christmas, or just feel nostalgic for the primary school Christmas play where you only got to be Third Shepherd or a non-speaking Angel, why not follow @natwivity on Twitter, or “like” www.facebook.com/natwivity.
And Merry Christmas!